SAN JOSE – All the lead-up of mentor against pupil, of low-post play against perimeter skill, and one simple aspect seemed to fall through the cracks: Superior talent, especially playing within a team concept, usually wins. UCLA had it, which meant coach Ben Howland was able to give his latest lesson to former longtime assistant and current Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon. The second-seeded Bruins held a dominant advantage in the backcourt and made enough open jumpers to defeat No. 3 seed Pittsburgh 64-55 Thursday in front of 18,049 at HPPavilion to advance to the NCAA Tournament’s West Regional final. UCLA (29-5) will face the region’s No. 1 seed Kansas, which defeated fourth-seeded Southern Illinois 61-58 in the opener. Tip-off is 4:05 p.m. Saturday, and a win would send UCLA to its second successive Final Four. The Bruins lost to Florida 73-57 in last year’s title game. “We’re not content, not satisfied,” UCLA point guard Darren Collison said. “We still have a job ahead of us.” Pittsburgh, where Howland coached before taking the UCLA job four years ago, has reached the Sweet 16 four times this decade, but is yet to make the Elite Eight. “I think Kansas is the hottest team to play in the country,” Howland said. “They haven’t lost since Feb. 3. Their personnel is as good as anybody in the country.” UCLA was led in scoring by Arron Afflalo’s 17 points, including 10 of 10 from the free-throw line. Josh Shipp added 16 points and Collison scored 12. Ronald Ramon paced Pittsburgh with 12points. Center Aaron Gray had 10 points and six rebounds, but disappeared for long stretches despite playing 32 minutes. “He’s good, but we’re better,” Bruins backup power forward/center Alfred Aboya said. “We ran right at him with the double team and didn’t let him get in rhythm. It’s great defense. We didn’t let him turn around and see the options he had. We didn’t give him any space. He was slow. We took advantage of him because he was slow.” Pittsburgh’s edge was supposed to be in the middle, with the 7-footer Gray creating matchup problems for the Bruins. But Gray was so ineffective, and such a non-factor, that foul trouble to UCLA starters Lorenzo Mata and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who combined to play 12 minutes in the first half, meant nothing on the defensive end. Even with little-used sophomore Ryan Wright guarding Gray, the Panthers’ big man did nothing. Aboya also limited Gray, whose biggest moment of the first half was blocking Arron Afflalo’s 3-point attempt in the closing seconds of the first half. Gray scored four points in the opening half, and did not attempt a shot after a dunk with 14:22 remaining. Collison used his quickness to consistently beat his Pittsburgh counterpart, Levance Fields, off the dribble to move the offense. Collison also blanketed Fields on the defensive end, which knocked the usually plodding Panthers’ offense off-kilter even more. The harried Panthers (29-8) shot 36.4percent from the field, missing their share of layups and open shots, but also succumbing to UCLA’s defensive pressure. “Our defense was spectacular, I thought,” Howland said. “It had to be, or we weren’t going to win this game. We’ve played good defense now our last three games in a row. I really credit our guys, just preparation, how focused they are, they heart, the intensity they play on every possession.” UCLA never trailed, and by the midpoint of the second half built a comfortable lead, but never pulled away. The closest the Bruins came was when Josh Shipp’s 3-pointer made it 43-31 with 11:10 to play, but Pittsburgh gritted through the next few minutes to pull within 44-37 on a pair of Ramon’s 3-pointers. Yet, each time the Panthers were poised to lessen the gap to a possession, a missed shot or turnover was followed by a UCLA score, like when Sam Young’s 14-foot jumper missed, leading to a pair of Afflalo free throws that began a 6-0run to give the Bruins a 54-42 lead with 4:14 to play. “I can’t remember a game where we’ve missed that many layups or that many easy looks,” Dixon said. “I don’t know what it was. It was just one of those things. There were a lot of times they were just sitting around the rim and came out.” The defense was so tight it felt as if a five-point lead was double digits, and the Bruins held it through much of the opening 20 minutes. UCLA took a 6-4 lead on Mata’s bucket off an inbounds pass, and didn’t trail the rest of the way. Russell Westbrook gave the Bruins a 16-11 lead when he corralled a loose ball in the backcourt, then drove right through Pittsburgh’s defense with 9:51 to play. The Bruins took the biggest lead of the half when Shipp and Collison each made two free throws to make it 27-19 with 3:23remaining. “They did a great job of forcing us out of our shots,” Gray said. “At the same time, we missed a lot of shots that we’re accustomed to making.” [email protected] (818) 713-3607160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!